Vitamin E: The Nutrient You May Not Be Getting Enough Of

Let’s talk about one of the most important nutrients for your brain health that a lot of people aren’t getting. Almost always, it’s at the top of the list. When we look at measurements of nutrient insufficiency, this is one of the nutrients that we’re really not getting enough of every day. In the last NHANES, the National Health and Nutrition Epidemiological Survey, 96% of Americans weren’t getting enough vitamin E. In natural foods, there are eight different forms of vitamin E. A lot more as known about the tocopherols, although there are a few interesting studies about tocotrienols, but I think it’s one of these lessons that we have about natural whole foods. They have some things that supplements don’t.

Here’s a few more quick facts about vitamin E and then we’ll get into the top food sources. So another really important idea around vitamin E is that it’s a fat soluble antioxidant. This means it dissolves in fat and protects fat from oxidation. That’s super important for your brain because your brain has all these really long chained polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated means the molecule is holding onto a lot of energy and it is also really easily oxidized. That’s one of those reasons fish kind of smells fishy faster than maybe beef smells like it’s spoiling. The reason that fishy smell is the oxidation of those long-chain omega-3 fats. So vitamin E is one of four fat soluble vitamins. There’s vitamin K, a, D, and E and vitamin E doesn’t get enough attention. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to make this video along with that great study.

Another fact about vitamin E is that there is a very strong correlation with depression. There was just a study that came out in February 2023 by Samuel and Alexander Huang, and they looked at the most recent NHANES data, 2017 to 2020. What they found was a very strong correlation between vitamin E consumption and the risk of depression or depressive symptoms. For every five milligrams of vitamin E that you eat, you decrease the odds of having depressive symptoms by 13% and if you go above the 15 milligrams a day, there’s no additional benefit.

So let’s talk about where you’re going to find vitamin E in your natural diet because whole foods is really the way to go. As I said earlier, you get eight different forms of vitamin E in whole foods. The only food I found that has all eight forms of vitamin E is barley. So first, let’s talk about some of the grains. So oats and barley and other whole grains are great sources of vitamin E. Another source, one of my favorites are sunflower seeds. These are really easy to add into salads or add into your trail mix. I’ll even throw them in omelettes sometimes or in a stir fry. These are a great source of vitamin E. This is one of the reasons why we want you to use olive oil as the primary fat that you’re cooking with. Olive oil has a fair amount of vitamin E in it.

So those are some of my favorite sources and as you can hear there aren’t lots of sources of vitamin E. Another source that I like are avocados, one of those top brain foods because it’s that fatty fruit which contains a lot of vitamin E. Then there are some lesser sources, like peppers or spinach, that of course, are great because we’re looking to get our diversity in our sources of vitamin E. For a long time we’ve known in psychiatry there is a correlation between vitamin E and depression risk, but it’s really an understudied, under heralded and also under consumed nutrient.

So I hope this video really helps you increase your consumption of vitamin E. If you think about that wonderful statistic that with every extra five milligrams of vitamin E, there’s a decrease in depression risk of 13%. That is really motivating. Additionally, these are all really delicious, wonderful, top brain foods that also have lots of other vitamins, minerals, nutrients, fiber and phytonutrients that are great to have in your dietary pattern when you’re thinking about eating to feed your mental health and improving your brain health. I hope this video helps inspire you to get more vitamin E in your diet.

Drew Ramsey, MD

Drew Ramsey, M.D. is a psychiatrist, author, and farmer. He is a clear voice in the mental health conversation and one of psychiatry’s leading proponents of using nutritional interventions. He is an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.

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